Russia’s Near Abroad, Part 2 – Latvia

Latvia has to walk a delicate walk with its 800-lb neighbour Russia

Russia's Near Abroad - Latvia
Map: www.anna.aero Russia's Near Abroad - Latvia
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Part 1 of this series was about Crimea.

[dropcap color=”#008040″ boxed=”yes” boxed_radius=”8px” class=”” id=””]R[/dropcap]ussia’s desire to slice old provinces which became independent nations, under the pretext of supporting ethnic groups has led to the formation of “frozen states” which only Russia recognizes.  So far, Abkhazia, South Ossetia, Crimea and Transnistria are examples of “frozen states.”   There are more potential candidates still to come.

Latvia will join in regional defense groups in order to show that it is no “banana republic.”

Estonia, (EESTI), with other Baltic states, joined the EU and NATO in 2004.  Its foreign policy has changed in one important way, since the country has become the best digitized nation on earth. The foreign minister has to coordinate data coming from different departments in order to formulate policy.  Estonia’s Foreign Minister Marma Kaljurand says her role has therefore diminished since the policy is “cooperation and inclusion.”3    It is cheaper to help Estonia than to liberate it.  Estonia wants more NATO troops as it has only 5,500 troops and 30K reservists.4

Its main task is to contain an aggressive Russia.  Estonia was helpless when Russia kidnapped alleged spy Eston Kohver illegally from Estonian territory.  Eventually Estonia exchanged Kohver with Aleksei Dressen, a Russian spy who was imprisoned in Estonia in 2012.5    In another incident, Estonia had to give up some territory, Setomaa, in order to make the arrogant Russians sign the Tartu Treaty of 1920. ‘Land for Peace’ was the only way for seeking Russian cooperation.6  A decisive border, rather than an open one, was necessary if Estonia was going to join the EU.  With between a third and a quarter of the population being Russian, Estonia finds it hard to be anti-Russian.  Recently, a blockade of the transit route hit the port and railways hard and Estonian President Toomas Ilves had to go to the Kremlin to lift the blockade.7

Latvian-Russian relationship is at best formal. Latvia has a larger Russian population than Ukraine and the Russian themselves are saying that Latvian nationalization policies are playing into Putin’s hands.  Since 60% of the school subjects must be in Latvian language, the Russians feel that they will be stateless and kept out of jobs.  Putin’s official policy is that expat Russians should take up Russian citizenship as they will receive pensions earlier and they will benefit from a liberal visa-free movement in Russia.  A little over a third of the population prefer the Russian track.8

[dropcap color=”#008040″ boxed=”yes” boxed_radius=”8px” class=”” id=””]T[/dropcap]he Crimean occupation, with 6,000 deaths, has created in Latvia the “deepest crisis in twenty years,” notes Sputniknews.com.9   Latvia’s Interior Minister Rihards Kozlovskis seems to have taken an extreme position by saying that “a criminal process had been started,” and the Secretary of Foreign Affairs Andrejs Pildegovics added that Putin’s goal is “the restoration of the Great Russian State,”10   meaning, of course, the USSR.  Many support these views but with the rise of independent states in the Near Abroad, after 1991, the re-creation of the USSR is impossible.  Moreover, even when some states want to join Russia, Putin has opposed such a move.

As Latvia is a developing country, Latvia’s Minister for Foreign Affairs Juris Poikãus notes wisely that, “we are committed to a constructive dialogue with the Russian Federation.”11    But Latvia has, indeed, called for more NATO troops. Latvia said that it would increase its military budget from 1.7% to 2% of GDP in 2018, as required by NATO. Latvia will join in regional defense groups in order to show that it is no “banana republic.”

Latvia has to be practical, as in 2015, 8.3% of its exports go to Russia and is worth €378.1 million, and 9.39% of its imports worth €493.5 million come from Russia.12   Latvia cannot afford to be hostile to Russia.

Latvia’s demand that Putin pay Latvia compensation for extortion during the three occupations in the nineteen forties will be a constant irritant.  Latvia demands an apology. A team of researchers in 2012 calculated that the compensation should be $375 billion.  The Red Army took 70% of the Latvian GDP to Russia.  Putin’s retort is that Russia entered the Baltics by agreement.13

References

  1. Stefan Kirchner, “Crimea’s declaration of independence and the subsequent annexation by Russia under international law,” Journal of International Law, January 9, 2015.

  2. “Russian Defense Minister names Russia’s main task,” pravda.ru, April 24, 2016.

  3. “Concept of foreign policy has changed for Estonia,” baltictimes.com, 27.7.2016.

  4. Mikhail Kulkushin, “Estonia wants more NATO troops – but only if they aren’t black,” observer.com, 22.2.2016.

  5. “Russia and Estonia exchange spies after Kohver row,” bbc.com, September 26, 2016.

  6. Bartoz Bieliszczuk, “David and Goliath? Estonia-Russia relations,” visegradplus.org, 10.1.2015.

  7. “Panic in Estonia: Russia kills its economy at one fell swoop,” pravda.ru, 15.4.2016.

  8. Mathew Luzmovre, “Latvia struggles with restive Russian minority amid regional tensions,” america.aljazeera.com, June 13, 2015.

  9. “Latvia-Russia relations in deepest crisis in 20 years,” sputniknews.com, 12.9.2015.

  10. Carl J. Williams, “Latvia, with a large minority of Russians worries about Putin’s goals,” latimes.com, April 13, 2016.

  11. Lydia Tomkiw, “Russia-NATO relations, 2016: Armed aggression, Latvia calls for more military troops,” ibtimes.com, 24.2.2016.

  12. Embassy of Latvia, “Relations between Latvia and Russia,” mfa.gov.lv, 29.9.2015.

  13. “Latvia wants Putin to apologize for Soviet occupation,” pravda.ru, 22.2.2013.

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